It took three seasons and three coaching staffs to get to this point, but Shea McClellin finally finds himself in the defensive scheme that many projected would suit him best from the beginning.
But nothing is promised to McClellin, the 19th overall pick in 2012, in the Bears’ new 3-4 defense under coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Fox said at the NFL annual meetings last month that the Bears don’t really know where he fits.
“The biggest success I saw in him when he came out of Boise State was as a 3-4 outside backer,” Fox said. “It hasn’t gone as well for him as far as position fit. In fairness to him, that’s not to be judgmental on anybody else.”
To find that fit, Fox said the Bears more than likely will start by working McClellin on the inside, where he would compete with Mason Foster, Jon Bostic and Christian Jones.
This year’s draft has some inside linebackers to consider, starting with Mississippi State’s Benardrick McKinney, UCLA’s Eric Kendricks and Miami’s Denzel Perryman. But analysts consider it lacking in overall value and depth compared to other positions.
“We don’t have a big-time, top-15 pick at inside linebacker in this draft,” said NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah, a former scout for the Baltimore Ravens.
With other areas to address on defense, the Bears could be OK entering camp with their current set of inside linebackers. And McClellin certainly makes for a unique wild card.
McClellin might never live up to his high selection, but the Bears’ new decision-makers aren’t overlooking his potential. Fox said he was high on McClellin coming out of Boise State.
McClellin also is in the last year of his rookie contract. The Bears have until May 3, the day after this year’s draft concludes, to decide whether to pick up his fifth-year option.
Right now, that seems unlikely considering McClellin’s struggles his first three seasons, the ongoing search for his right position and the price for that option.
According to a CBS Sports analysis, McClellin would have a $7.751 million salary in 2016, which is the average of the third- through 25th-highest salaries at linebacker. The fifth-year option is guaranteed for injury when it’s exercised.
Either way, helping McClellin’s case for playing time is his work at linebacker last season. He often said that he felt more comfortable at the position after carrying extra weight to be a 4-3 defensive end his first two years.
In 2014, McClellin started 10 of the 12 games he played as the Bears’ strong-side linebacker. He had 84 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, one sack and one fumble recovery.
“The transition is we’re going to start him inside because it’s a harder position to learn as far as run fits and how they set in there,” Fox said. “But he’ll be both. So we don’t really have a position, per se, for him. A linebacker is a linebacker. So he’ll get the opportunity to compete at both.”
POSITION SPOTLIGHT: INSIDE LINEBACKER
Rating the Bears’ Need: Low
There are concerns at inside linebacker, but the needs for help at other positions, particularly the defensive line and secondary, are more significant.
Overall, this is a young position. Mason Foster, a free-agent signing, is the most experienced and only in his fifth NFL season.
Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene are in their third years, while Christian Jones is in his second. Shea McClellin, the Bears’ first-round pick in 2012, also will work at inside linebacker.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio should have an immense impact on the inside linebackers as he moves the Bears to a 3-4 defense.
It was a dominant position for the San Francisco 49ers under Fangio with Patrick Willis, Navorro Bowman and Chris Borland all flourishing.
The same can’t be expected immediately from the Bears’ current crop of inside linebackers, but the scheme change should suit Foster and Bostic, the two projected starters at this time.
Best of the best
NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah, a former scout, said he considers Miami’s Denzel Perryman, UCLA’s Eric Kendricks, Clemson’s Stephone Anthony and Mississippi State’s Benardrick McKinney as possible late first-round selections.
Paul Dawson was a very productive player at Texas Christian, but didn’t have a strong showing at the NFL Scouting Combine and has character concerns. Georgia’s Ramik Wilson has mid-round grades.